By Ayesha Rascoe
PALM BEACH, FLA. (Reuters) - The Trump administration will not make public White House visitor logs, the records that detail who has visited President Donald Trump and his staff on official business, his office confirmed, in a departure from a practice that was established under former President Barack Obama.
White House Communications Director Michael Dubke said in a statement on Friday that "the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually" was the reason for keeping the records secret.
Transparency advocates had praised Obama's decision to release the logs, although his administration argued the disclosure was not required by law but instead was voluntary. As a result, Obama's team frequently redacted names from the list of visitors that were released to the public, including celebrities and donors who were sighted on the White House grounds.
The logs offer the most comprehensive look at who has access to the president and his team. Examining the logs provides insight into which interests are lobbying the White House and who may have more influence in the administration. Trump has continued the Obama policy of not allowing administration staffers to become lobbyists after leaving their government job, a rule that carries no enforcement mechanism and that they have already waived for one staffer.
The announcement that the logs would remain secret quickly drew criticism from watchdog groups.
"Elected officials work for the people and we deserve to see government business conducted in transparent daylight," Faiz Shakir, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "The only reasonable conclusion is to believe the Trump administration has many things it is trying to hide."During the Obama administration, conservative watchdog groups sued the Secret Service, which maintains the records, in an attempt to make unredacted copies publicly available. After Trump took office, a liberal watchdog group has taken over the fight, filing a lawsuit on Monday demanding the records.
Separately, Democrats in Congress have filed legislation to force the administration to release visitor logs from Mar-A-Largo, the president's Palm Beach estate where he has spent most weekends since becoming president. The legislation is unlikely to gain any traction because Republicans control the legislative body.
(Reporting by Ayesha Roscoe; Writing by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Bernard Orr)